An increasing number of TED Talks, futuristic think pieces, and science fiction books portray artificial intelligence (AI) as the catalyst for people’s conversion from humans to godlike creatures capable of eternal life. They depict AI triggering the “singularity”— “super intelligences” that act, think, and feel as humans do, but with unimaginably greater abilities and capacity. Some visionaries worry that AI has the capacity to put most of humanity on a permanent vacation within the next 30 years. Elon Musk said, “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”
It’s fair to say that concern around AI is growing. But the reality is that The Terminator is still science fiction, and as the saying goes, “it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” What we know today is that AI is rapidly becoming the new currency of business. Companies across all industries are adopting AI because the technology — machine learning, deep learning, computer vision, and natural language processing — offers a path to meet new customer expectations and drive productivity.
AI is facilitating those deeper, more proactive and personalized relationships at a scale previously deemed impossible. And, according to Salesforce Research, 52 percent of customers are likely to switch brands if they’re not receiving personalized communications.
As an example, three industry leaders are adopting AI in different ways, both with customers and their own workforces.
Humana, a Fortune 100 health insurance giant, uses AI to augment its human customer service. The company’s customer service agents now get real-time, in-call messages alerting them if they’re talking too quickly, interrupting too frequently, or leaving too much dead air in their conversations. Humana is also able to identify customer conversations that seem likely to escalate — in advance — and ensure a supervisor is ready to take the call rather than exacerbate the situation by putting the customer on hold.
This deployment of AI led to a measurably better customer experience. Issue resolution on the first call increased by 6.3 percent, and those issues were resolved seven seconds quicker. Most notably, Net Promoter Score — a measure of a customer’s willingness to recommend a company — jumped by 28 percent.
Company leaders at furniture retailer Room & Board have long strived to deliver exceptional in-store experiences for their customers. Trained advisors work to understand customers and suggest products that match each customer’s preferences.
By leveraging AI, the company was able to bring this level of personalized service online. Using a combination of customer behavior data and predictive analytics, the Room & Board website now recommends purchases to customers automatically as they move through the purchase process. The change increased sales. Direct conversion from customers who were shown suggested products was 150 percent higher than from those who were not, and average order value was 16 percent higher.
In a world where customer expectations increase rapidly, AI offers companies the tools to deliver personalized, seamless experiences at the scale of their business. While AI is still not mainstream in business, 58 percent of companies are actively researching AI solutions, according to Forrester. Recent Salesforce Research on AI found that 37 percent of sales, service, and marketing teams are already using AI, and a further 22 percent are piloting or evaluating solutions.
To make the transition from idea to reality, companies must begin to lay the groundwork now. To start, CEOs must answer four important questions:
AI requires considerable amounts of data to “train” algorithms. Google’s image-recognition algorithm, which can identify images of thousands of different objects more reliably than humans, could only do so after scrutinizing more than a million labeled images.
Companies must ensure they have the right IT systems and processes in place to collect and organize data from across teams and departments effectively. In addition, companies must ensure they are transparent with the customers and have legal compliance in place so they’re able to appropriately use customer data to feed AIs models.
There is little point incorporating AI into business processes without first clarifying the specific business problem you want to solve. What sorts of problems can AI help with? There are three types:
Descriptive: AI allows companies to discover insights such as identifying new customer segments based on past purchase behavior and product interaction across a customer base.
Predictive: AI gives companies the ability to accurately predict future actions, such as determining propensity to buy based on a customer’s previous behavior..
Prescriptive: AI goes a step further with prescriptive analytics. Rather than simply pointing out that a customer is likely to churn in the future, AI can help companies determine the next best actions to reduce churn.
One handy additional rule of thumb: if you can report on it, you can use AI to help predict it. Or on the flipside, it’s impossible to predict something that you can’t report on.
AI is most effectively used as a tool to augment the capacity and effectiveness of human employees. It’s crucial that a company can make clear when a machine’s role ends and a human’s begins.
When incorporating AI into workflows, companies must stress how AI can augment an employee’s capacity; cut repetitive, menial tasks; and allow employees to focus on more interesting and productive work. The marketing team at Room & Board eliminated the need for its staff to create offers and promotions manually, freeing them up to focus on providing more personalized service.
It’s equally important to make clear the limits of AI’s authority. When Humana began to roll out AI guidance for customer service agents, the company made sure to put human coaches front and center to transmit feedback.
AI is the new currency of business, creating a foundation for building deeper customer relationships. Companies should not be overly concerned about The Terminator, and focus on finding the right use cases and taking a systematic approach to implementing AI across their businesses.